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Archive for August 2006

Music opens new world to Afghan girls

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By Terry Friel
Sun Aug 27, 9:57 PM ET

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) – The lilt of a girl singing of homecoming blends pleasantly with a cacophony of different melodies from keyboard, guitar and drums in a music school in northern Afghanistan.

The female students, wearing burqas with their faces uncovered, chuckle and joke as they practice in Afghanistan’s first women-only music school, relishing in their new found freedom.

Just a few years ago, music was banned by the hardline Taliban government. Musicians fled the country and women were barred from schools or leaving home without a male relative.

Now, this six-month project at the Nagashand Fine Art Gallery in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, near the border with Uzbekistan, is teaching 18 girls and women to become music teachers.

The women are taught singing and how to play a range of modern and traditional musical instruments.

“As a child, I liked music — I wanted to prove women can play music,” said 14-year-old Zahra Amiri, the youngest student at the school. “I want to be a musician some day.”

Her sister, 25-year-old Masoma Mazari, heads the project and like Amiri is learning the electric keyboard, or what they simply call “the Casio.”

OLD FEARS

But the $9,200 project, backed by the United Nations and local aid groups, still battles to overcome old fears.

“Music has had a very bad history in Afghanistan, so many people are against it,” Amiri said, white platform shoes peeking out under the robes of her black burqa.

“Some families are afraid their girls will turn bad,” she said. “But music is necessary for our soul. It calms our soul.”

All the students, ranging in age from 14 to 30, lived for years in Iran as refugees after their families fled war torn Afghanistan. Afghan women who stayed during the civil war and the Taliban time are still reluctant to join.

“All the girls here are from Iran — they have grown up in a free environment,” Mazari said.

The only student who remained in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule quit after just a few weeks due to social pressures in a conservative, Islamic society.

She had appeared on television in a song contest in Kabul, coming third, but was harassed in Mazar when she returned.

“People here made fun of her. Now she is afraid to come to lessons anymore,” said Amiri.

The influence of returning refugees, especially from the West and countries such as Iran, has helped break down barriers and bring about some change.

Women are making gains. They sit in parliament, head government ministries and some are finding jobs outside traditional occupations for women such as teaching and nursing.

But even in major cities, many still wear the burqa in public and in rural areas are subject to strict tradition.

RETURNING HOME

Amiri and Mazari had never seen Afghanistan until they returned two years ago to Mazar-i-Sharif, a dusty city on the hot northern plains known for its hashish, carpets and Hazrat Ali mosque.

Their family, including Mazari’s husband, is supportive of their musical endeavors. But she still thinks it is too soon to allow boys to join the music school.

“It would create problems if boys and girls study together,” Mazari said.

“Some women have been separate for so long during the fighting it is very difficult for them to come study with males,” she added.

But the two teachers at the school are men.

One, Khalil Bakhtari, 45, fled to the United Arab Emirates after the Taliban took power in 1996.

“I was very depressed when the Taliban came, because we could not teach music,” he said, fiddling with his harmonium. “If the Taliban knew I was a musician, they would have punished me.

“We wanted the Taliban defeated so that we could teach music again,” he said.

Bakhtari and his colleague, Nadair Kharimi, 33, teach about 10 instruments, ranging from the saxophone and electric keyboard to tabla drums and the ancient Afghani robab guitar.

A teacher for 15 years, Bakhtari said he was frequently asked by local women to set up a music school after his return.

But he never had the resources — his harmoniums, for example, cost $300 each in a country where the average annual income is about $200.

Then the United Nations and local charities stepped in to bring music back to Afghani women after years of repressive Taliban rule.

“We are free. We can do anything. We can play music again,” he said.

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Written by afghandevnews

August 27, 2006 at 10:23 pm

Posted in Culture and Arts

Families of bombing victims get compensation

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Abdul Mueed Hashmi

ASADABAD, Aug 26 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Cash amount was distributed to families of those killed in last week US’ bombing in the Shigol district of the eastern Kunar province on Saturday.

The assistance was announced by President Hamid Karzai as compensation, which was distributed to the victim’s families by a delegation comprising provincial Governor Shalizai Didar and some MPs from Kunar.

The pre-dawn attack on Thursday claimed eight lives, including a 12-year-old boy, and wounded a woman. Local said the slain were civilians but the coalition forces argued they were al-Qaeda facilitators.

The official delegation also secured release of the four people taken into custody by the US forces after the strike from the same house.

Haji Sakhi Mashwanai, member of parliament from Kunar, told Pajhwok Afghan News they had convoyed condolences from President Karzai to the bereaved families of the slain. He said each family of the dead was provided with 200,000 afghanis while those wounded were given 50,000afs as compensation.

Disputing the statement of US military, Mashwani said all the dead were common citizens and tribal elders, who had gathered in the targeted house to solve a dispute. He said the inquiry commission formed by the president would present its report tomorrow.

He said members of the commission had demanded of the president to stop the foreign forces from targeting civilians. President Karzai had ordered probe into the incident soon after reports regarding the killing of the eight civilians.

Written by afghandevnews

August 26, 2006 at 10:25 pm

Afghanistan: 11 villagers missing after floods hit eastern Nangarhar

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[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
KABUL, 25 August (IRIN) – At least 11 people are missing after their villages were struck by floods in eastern Nangarhar province on Thursday, local officials confirm.
Following torrential rains, flash floods ravaged Kout district some 70 km southeast of Jalalabad, provincial capital of Nangarhar, Mohammad Hashim Ghamsharek, head of Nangarhar’s information and culture department, told IRIN by phone.
“Hundreds of families have been affected and need urgent assistance,” Ghamsharek stated.
But according to Nangarhar’s department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (RRD) on Friday, a team has already been dispatched to the flood-affected area to assess the damage.
The region has witnessed a barrage of recent flooding due to heavy rains.
On Wednesday, floods killed two people in Nangarhar’s Chafplayar district, washing away hundreds of acres of farmlands, local officials said.
Flashfloods on 30 July killed 13 people in the village of Kodi Khail of Shirzad district and washed away more than 1,000 hectares of farmlands and destroyed dozens of houses, according to officials.
On 10 August, local authorities confirmed that floods had killed 33 and left thousands of people homeless in the southeastern provinces of Paktika, Ghazni and Paktia.
Floods killed at least seven people and forced 500 families to leave their villages and homes in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan in July.
Additionally, floods killed at least 16 people and destroyed hundreds of homes in Baghlan and Faryab provinces on 30 April, officials said
According to experts, the impoverished Central Asian state, which has suffered numerous environmental degradations, including deforestation and drought, is particular vulnerable to floods and other natural disasters.
MS/DS

Written by afghandevnews

August 25, 2006 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Natural Disasters

Facing deluge of problems, Afghanistan’s Karzai under attack in US

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by P. Parameswaran
Thu Aug 24, 10:56 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is coming under increasing criticism in the United States for rampant graft, poor security and failure to slash poverty in the insurgency-wracked nation.
While the democratically elected Karzai government is a big improvement over any of its recent predecessors, it has not brought security, economic revival or effective governance to most of the country, the New York Times lamented in an editorial Thursday.
A day earlier, in a lengthy commentary attacking his rule, the newspaper said, “For the first time since Mr Karzai took office four and half years ago, Afghans and diplomats are speculating about who might replace him.”
“Most agree that the answer for now is no one, leaving the fate of the American-led enterprise tied to his own success or failure,” it said.
Recently the Washington Post, another influential daily, reported on a growing rift between Kabul and some of the foreign establishments whose money and firepower helped rebuild and defend the country.
Several European governments particularly expressed concerns about Karzai’s leadership, it said, citing such problems as corruption, highway police robbing travelers, booming drug trafficking and vanishing aid money.
Karzai became Afghanistan’s transitional leader soon after US-led troops ousted the Taliban regime for giving sanctuary to Al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
But after receiving enormous development and security aid, Karzai remains unable to push ahead with rapid reconstruction of the war-battered country.
Security is largely not under control, especially in the volatile south where Taliban militants remain active.
Nearly 90 people were killed in a series of attacks last weekend in the deadliest violence since NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took over command of the south from a US-led coalition on July 31.
“We may be at a tipping point,” warned Marvin Weinbaum, who once served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the US State Department’s bureau of intelligence and research.
Karzai is “decent and honest” yet “indecisive” and “inconsistent,” he said.
“In many ways, he is operating like a tribal chief,” unwittingly nurturing a criminal culture network of insurgents, drug barons, militias and corrupt local officials “who do not want to see the central government or international forces assert authority countrywide,” Weinbaum said.
“Many believe that there is drug involvement right up to provincial officials, governors and even to cabinet members but Karzai has no stomach to confront this problem because if not his own political survival may be threatened,” he said.
The American-backed Karzai government and the international community, he said, must strive to restore the confidence of the Afghans by “making clear and firm commitments to bring about a secure and better life economically.”
Washington is “very aware” of the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, a State Department official said. “But the country is still in transition and it needs more time and we will give all the support and assistance,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I think President Karzai is still operating in a very fractured political climate and there is definitely a limit to how strongly he can act to impose his particular will on the country,” the official said.
More than four years after the Taliban ouster, people still face lack of access to proper health care, housing, education, jobs, drinking water and the rights to property as well as to justice.
This despite increasing foreign funds poured into the country. The United States alone has given more than 10 billion dollars so far.
Teresita Schaffer, a former US envoy and now South Asia chief at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said while implementation of projects had proved difficult, foreign donors needed to focus with some urgency on “a small number of very difficult problems with huge strategic implications.”
These include establishing an effective counternarcotics program, including alternative livelihoods for those caught up in the drug trade against their will; creating an effective police force; and simplifying the very complex ground rules for foreign military forces in Afghanistan, she said.
Foreign donors also need to find ways to help the government increase its capacity to act effectively, Schaffer said.
“Time is not on our side,” she said, warning that “the consequences of backsliding are dangerous indeed.”

Written by afghandevnews

August 24, 2006 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Governance

720 mln sq meters of land not cleared of mines in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Aug 22, 2006 (Xinhua) — An estimated 720 million square (sq) meters of land remains to be cleared of mines in war-weary Afghanistan, although over 1 billion sq meters has been cleared since 1989, a UN official told Xinhua on Tuesday.

“About 60 Afghans fall victim to mines each month,” said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Though the number is down from about 140 five years ago, it is still far too high, said Siddique, adding that almost 50 percent of all victims in 2005 were under the age of 18.

The Mine Action Program for Afghanistan, which is coordinated by the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, continues to work hard to clear contaminated land across Afghanistan, the spokesman said.

Numerous mines are still buried in many areas of Afghanistan due to decades of war, imposing severe threat to innocent lives.

Separately, several manual clearance teams, which are all Non- governmental Organizations, are working diligently to clear mines on TV Mountain, which is located in central Kabul and is the highest in the capital of Afghanistan, Siddique said.

Fighting between mujahidin factions left the hill covered with hundreds of anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines and pieces of unexploded ordnance.

The clearance of the mountain is expected to end in March 2007. However, a portion of it will remain as a clearly marked minefield, as destruction of the mines would cause damage to nearby residential areas.

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August 22, 2006 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Demining

Unholy alliance with the Taliban that sustains a nation’s drugs trade

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By Tom Coghlan in Kabul
The Independent (UK)
Published: 22 August 2006

More than a third of this year’s record poppy harvest was produced in just one province, Helmand, in which 4,400 British troops have been engaged in intense clashes with the Taliban since June.

Here the insurgency and the drugs barons appear to have made an unholy alliance. When The Independent visited the drugs heartlands of north Helmand in May, local poppy farmers explained that the Taliban had promised to protect their poppy fields, whilst taking a tax on the opium produced.

Senior Nato officers have warned that millionaire drug smugglers are also funding the insurgents and have expressed concern that the threat to the poppy economy in the south is pushing the local populace into the camp of the Taliban. Some military figures have suggested an amnesty on poppy eradication for a year or more.

In neighbouring Kandahar local people accused Western nations of broken promises and complained bitterly that poppy cultivation and fighting for the Taliban were the only sources of employment in the economically devastated south.

“I was in a meeting where the foreigners promised $28m (£15m) to Kandahar if people stopped cultivating poppy,” said one farmer in the town of Punjwai. “But they haven’t even given so much as one boiled sweet.”

In fact, in 2005, just short of $1bn was thrown at the opium problem. Nearly the same amount has been spent this year.

Western officials say that a note of optimism has been a sustained reduction in poppy in Nangahar province, one of the country’s previous major drug production centres. But they admit to deep frustration in the face of massive government corruption and collusion on the part of many police and officials in the drugs trade.

Several members of the Afghan parliament are widely reported to be key figures in the drugs trade. An apparent US army intelligence document which was discovered on a computer memory stick at an Afghan bazaar earlier this year named a number of government ministers it alleged were complicit in the drugs trade, including the Interior Minister for Counter Narcotics. He denies the charge. Despite international efforts to reform the country’s judicial system, no major drugs figures have yet been arrested.

In an interview with Fortune magazine last month, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted that there were “a lot of people” in his administration who profit from the drugs trade. The value of the Afghan narco-economy was put at $2.7 bn, or 52 per cent of Afghan GDP, last year.

More than a third of this year’s record poppy harvest was produced in just one province, Helmand, in which 4,400 British troops have been engaged in intense clashes with the Taliban since June.

Here the insurgency and the drugs barons appear to have made an unholy alliance. When The Independent visited the drugs heartlands of north Helmand in May, local poppy farmers explained that the Taliban had promised to protect their poppy fields, whilst taking a tax on the opium produced.

Senior Nato officers have warned that millionaire drug smugglers are also funding the insurgents and have expressed concern that the threat to the poppy economy in the south is pushing the local populace into the camp of the Taliban. Some military figures have suggested an amnesty on poppy eradication for a year or more.

In neighbouring Kandahar local people accused Western nations of broken promises and complained bitterly that poppy cultivation and fighting for the Taliban were the only sources of employment in the economically devastated south.

“I was in a meeting where the foreigners promised $28m (£15m) to Kandahar if people stopped cultivating poppy,” said one farmer in the town of Punjwai. “But they haven’t even given so much as one boiled sweet.”

In fact, in 2005, just short of $1bn was thrown at the opium problem. Nearly the same amount has been spent this year.

Western officials say that a note of optimism has been a sustained reduction in poppy in Nangahar province, one of the country’s previous major drug production centres. But they admit to deep frustration in the face of massive government corruption and collusion on the part of many police and officials in the drugs trade.

Several members of the Afghan parliament are widely reported to be key figures in the drugs trade. An apparent US army intelligence document which was discovered on a computer memory stick at an Afghan bazaar earlier this year named a number of government ministers it alleged were complicit in the drugs trade, including the Interior Minister for Counter Narcotics. He denies the charge. Despite international efforts to reform the country’s judicial system, no major drugs figures have yet been arrested.

In an interview with Fortune magazine last month, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted that there were “a lot of people” in his administration who profit from the drugs trade. The value of the Afghan narco-economy was put at $2.7 bn, or 52 per cent of Afghan GDP, last year.

Written by afghandevnews

August 22, 2006 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Drugs

Archeologists discover Stupa, Buddha in central Afghanistan

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Source: Xinhua
August 21, 2006

A joint archeologist team of Afghan and France has discovered a vast Stupa of Buddhism and 22 other artifacts including a statue of Buddha near the destroyed giant Buddhas in Afghanistan’s central Bamyan province, a local newspaper reported Monday.

“The newly discovered Stupa with a length of 20 meters and 5 meters width dated back between fifth and seventh centuries,” daily Outlook writes in its Monday edition.

The dome-shaped structure was erected by Buddhists to perform their rituals, it added ,A number of historical objects including a half-meter statue of Buddha were also found from the area which is close to the two destroyed giant Buddhas.

Taliban regime dynamited both the 55-meter long and 35-meter giant Buddha in March 2001.

However, Ahad Abasi, director of artifacts department at the Ministry for Information and Culture, told Xinhua that the excavation is going in the area to find more ancient objects belong to Budhism.

Abasi, who was on way to Bamyan said that the renowned Afghan archeologist Zamaryal Tarzai has been supervising the digging of historical sites in Bamyan.

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August 21, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Culture and Arts